Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934)
It has been said of the Russian psychologist Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky
that he possessed a Mozartian genius, yet he lived in a time and
place that was not receptive to Mozarts. In his youth he was interested
in literature and literary analysis, becoming a connoisseur of
poetry and philosophy. At 18, he wrote an essay on Shakespeare's
Hamlet that was later incorporated into one of his psychological
writings. After entering the medical school at Moscow University
he promptly switched to the law school and simultaneously enrolled
in a private university to study literature once more. He became
interested in psychology only at the age of 28.
Vygotsky taught literature for awhile in a provincial school and
then taught at a teacher's college where he gave his first lectures
on psychology. His first large research project was The Psychology
of Art (1925) -- he used this as his Ph.D. thesis in psychology
at Moscow Institute of Psychology. Vygotsky never had formal training
Vygotsky's collaborators included Alexander Luria and Alexei Leontiev,
who helped create the body of research now known as the Vygotskian
approach. During his lifetime, Vygotsky was under pressure to
adapt his theories to the prevailing political ideology in Russia.
After his death from tuberculosis in 1934, his ideas were repudiated
by the government but his ideas were kept alive by his students
and later revived. Vygotsky's pioneering work in developmental
psychology has had a profound influence on school education in
Russia, and interest in his theories continues to grow throughout
Vygotskian approaches in US K-12 schools
Best Practices in Education is interested in helping US schools adapt Vygotskian practices
in the teaching of literacy and math, especially in cases where
the practice is in successful use in another country. One such
example is the Tools of the Mind project in the Denver Public Schools. Another is the Vygotskian Math Project at the Susquehanna School in Binghamton, New York.
Web resources on Vygotsky
There are numerous resources on the Web that relate to Vygotsky
and his work; here are just a few:
Vygotsky -- A Learning Construction Zone
Social Development Theory (L. Vygotsky)
JALT -- Featured Links 6/96
Vygotsky Centennial Project
Vygotsky's Thought and Language
L. S. Vygotsky and the Contemporary Human Sciences
Here is a very brief bibliography of books by and about Vygotsky
and his work that are readily available in English.
Bodrova, E., & Leong, D. J. (1996). Tools of the Mind: The Vygotskian Approach to Early Childhood Education. Englewood
Cliffs, New Jersey: Merrill, an imprint of Prentice Hall.
Luria, A.R. (1976). Cognitive Development: Its Cultural and Social
Foundations. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Van der Veer, R., & Valsiner, J. (1991). Understanding Vygotsky:
A Quest for Synthesis. Oxford: Blackwell.
Vygotsky, Lev (1986). Thought and Language. Cambridge, Massachusetts:
The MIT Press.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher
Psychological Processes. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University